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Bill Burnett

Employers: GET OUT THE WHIPS!!!

A few weeks ago I posted a tongue-in-cheek comment about the link between productivity and happiness at work. (The beating will stop when productivity declines) Measures around productivity fail to capture our ability to solve new customer problems, which is the source of a company's future competitive advantage.
See http://superinnovator.blogspot.com/2010/01/beatings-will-stop-when-productivity.html

Michael

Interesting post! On the topic of the boss I came across a very different perception, you might be interested to see the post Irrelevant boss by Vineet Nayar http://www.vineetnayar.com/the-irrelevant-boss/

JohnSG

BSutton

I agree with much of what has already been said. Even with problem of dealing with assholes (AH's) it's important to find better ways to communicate and that means improving the feedback loops. Some people, including bosses, don't have the emotional intelligence to pick up on subtle cues. Those people are more likely to act like an AH in public or in meetings, but probably many other AH’s act bad only in private or they engage in some form of back stabbing.

My wife loves to work with startup companies, even though the work can be quite demanding. Once the company becomes established, however, it's not so much fun. Apparently AH's tend to congregate in the established companies.

As a physician, I could appreciate your note about nurses. I know that many nurses work very hard and when understaffed, it makes everyone grouchy. Often there are external circumstances that make the need for good communication even greater. No one can control what or who will come through the ER door. When a true emergency arises and everyone works like a team, it's pretty cool. But it doesn't always happen like that and I know of one case in which a patient probably died because of petty foot dragging by people who didn't understand the urgency of the situation. If one cannot convey a sense of urgency in a polite manner, then it's probably time to yell. Surgeons are notorious for treating their patients with the utmost respect but being very demanding on the staff. I think this is in part due to the types of problems they face that must be dealt with quickly and efficiently.

Another way of stating your point, I guess, is that bosses are not getting feedback that they need. By "feedback" I don't necessarily mean "Negative Feedback" which in the stricter sense means to change conditions in order to go in the opposite direction. I guess "realistic feedback" would be a better word. They need someone to tell them that they have bad breath, or talk too loud, or stare at subordinates too long.

I've often thought about how nice it would be to have a Scapegoat at work or at school. Someone who would wear a sign "Scapegoat" and, in the Biblical sense, everyone could dump their problems on this "Scapegoat of the Day" (a new job description ???).

But that's not really practical. What might work better is to add something to the Org Chart, the chart with each big circle representing a person and lines to others to whom they report. I would add a small circle beside each large circle with a name of a person who acts as a "Feedbacker" (this sounds like a sports analogy, but really isn't). This person would meet with the large circle person on a regular basis and is expected to give the big circle person the realistic feedback that the feedbacker gets from anyone else in the company, either anonymously or not. The feedbacker would not necessarily be the big circle's best friend, but should have that person's best interests at heart. If an employee cannot chose a feedbacker, then one would be chosen for him/ her.

The benefits of such a feedback system is: 1. the feedbacker can hide the identity of the person with the complaint, 2. if the boss is having personal problems the feedback can be delayed, 3. Several complaints can be put together and couched in a way that is palatable ("You shouldn't wear pink dresses every day. They don't quite match your tie.") 4. the feedbacker can entirely block feedback from employees who are AH's themselves.

Aside from better feedback communication, it's really up to top management to recognize and deal with AH's, and they're often too busy with other things. Another way, from the employees point of view, to deal with bad situations is to become part of a community that supports each other so that they can leave a job and find another without fear of losing benefits. What flexibility! That would require feedback too, though, and another email.

John s

nathaniel heisler

I work at Arrow electronics and I am very likely not going to last long there. Before I go I really want to give all the bosses above me this article. It may change their perspectives on what it is going to be like after the short term hold out is no longer existent for its employees. But then again how can you relate this to a company that is constantly trying to get a higher productivity from the work horses that only make just above minimum wage. They think that productivity is generated from more carrots and sticks and they forget that maybe the employees are actually human and not horses.

Nicole

Wow. This really struck a chord. Today, one of my coworkers is home sick (she's been going home early nearly every day because we don't have dedicated sick time, so she doesn't want to lose a day of vacation). One of our managers woke her up with a phone call and asked her to work from home. She is currently answering email and doing work from her sick bed.

That same manager denied three requests I put in for a half-day or single day off, but regularly works a 6-hour day because he has a child.

Another manager (yes, we have two co-managers) refused to speak to us for two weeks because we replied by email to a policy change she sent out by email 10 minutes after a department meeting.

Those managers also force lower-level employees to negotiate promotions and raises directly with the CEO--they do not want to be involved, and especially do not want to advocate for their staff. And when they are frustrated that another department we depend on falls behind, they take out their frustrations on the lower-level employees, verbally snapping at them and excluding them from meetings.

I don't think they realize they have an entire staff that is angry, frustrated, confused by their behavior, and prepping to jump ship the minute or maybe the second the job opportunities in our field open back up. People like this should not be managing other people.

This company, a startup, also promised us medical, dental, and vision insurance in our offer letters and during the interview process. But the third week the office was open, we were told that that was too expensive. We have a high-deductible catastrophic medical plan. Better than nothing, but worse than what any of us had at our previous jobs and an inauspicious breach of employer-employee trust very early on in the working relationship.

BRING ON THE RECOVERY!!!!

Dwayne Phillips

Absolutely, people quit bosses, not organizations. I currently have a good boss. I don't know much about the greater corporation that employs me (over 10,000 employees), but I do know about my boss.

Chris Young

Great post Bob! It will certaintly be interesting to see how these bad bosses fare as the recovery builds steam.

I've included your post in my Rainmaker top five blog picks of the week (http://www.maximizepossibility.com/employee_retention/2010/04/the-rainmaker-fab-five-blog-picks-of-the-week.html) to share with my readers.

Be well!

James Dodson

IMO I think employee treatment and boss quality can be segmented by industry. Companies in growth markets probably have a greater degree of employee / management satisfaction then companies in mature / declining markets such as auto industry. Cost cutting in the form of firing and layoffs during the past 2 years has been the decision norm of most companies. I am not qualified to speak on whether or not this was necessary or not. IMO I would like to hypothesis that companies who have entered and are surviving the recession with a decent amount of working capital are better to employees than those with significant working capital constraints. I believe this causes much stress for the management and erodes morale to a point where management, employee and company are just hanging onto threads of survival. I’m sure this impacts relationships and decisions.

Travis Branzell

During a time of economic hardships bosses/managers should be doing everything in their power to keeping their subordinates happy, because success is often associated with happiness. Those that remain successful while the economy is the dumps will survive until things start to turn around. Not to say that once the economy does turn around they can manage differently.....

I did a little research but couldn't find much showing the statistics of unemployment by age group, but I would be interested to see the unemployment associated with age groups. I would be willing to guess that my generation (I'm 26), or age group between 19 to 30 makes up much of the unemployment. I'm basing this off of individuals that I know (some with college degrees) are unemployed and have been collecting unemployment for the last year or so, waiting for the economy to turn around and jobs to open up. They can't find themselves to take a job that pays less than what they were once making prior to being laid off....which is kind of sad for a couple reasons. I don't think that they realize that taking a job stocking shelves, digging ditches, shredding paper, delivering packages, etc. could actually have a positive influence on the economy. As long as they are working and increasing the productivity of a company they are indirectly stimulating the economy. There are jobs out there....some people just feel that they are above taking a job that pays less than what they would like to make. I strongly believe that if unemployed can bring themselves to take a job that is below their pay grade, rather than collecting unemployment, they economy could potentially be stimulated. Besides, you could learn a new trade, skill, or even endure useful experiences in the process….just a thought to consider.

Wade Anderson

I think at this stage that it is going to be difficult to retain employees that are ready to leave. Their minds are already made up. It is wise though for these bosses to change their behaviors in order to keep those employees that still haven't made up their minds. This current recession has changed the way many job seekers think about looking for a new job and those employees might be able to be saved.

Donna Svei

Bob,

I wonder if the exodus has already started. I have my individual job search clients track companies of interest with Google Alerts.

One client and I have seen the name of a large professional services firm pop up repeatedly in new hire announcements as former employees of the firm join other firms. These announcement have been a red flag for my client to move ahead very cautiously in interviewing with this firm.

It's so important for people to vet their prospective employers as carefully as employers vet them. If they don't, they risk taking a draining job and putting a short tenure on their resume.

Thank you so much for your work on workplace bullying. It's a huge quality of life issue in the U.S.

Donna Svei

Greg

As usual, well put. Will bad bosses fundamentally change? No. Doubtful they will even be held accountable for losing the strongest and retaining the weakest (reverse Darwinism). After all (the story will go), they were a bunch of ingrates of whom the company is better off without.

Bill Williams

Bob:

Everything you say is true. I had a big boss who was an asshole and it percolated down through the system. My impatience got the better of me and I got fired by speaking out and speaking up. I worked in a school - where teachers as especially seen as replaceable parts. Fire one get another. Fired an old, experienced one, get two new ones for the price of one.

KLB

I would be curious to find out whether or not bosses can actually modify their behavior to retain employees when the job market picks up or if the damage has been done and the effort it too little too late.

If I were in this position I fear that I would leave out of principle.

PerGynt

Bad bosses are a source of inspiration. I have had a string of them, and I will never have the problem again. My only bosses now are my clients, and that's the way it will have to be.

Bill Bennett

We're seeing something similar here in New Zealand.

At the hight of the economic downturn, employers thought they had the upper hand. Many behaved badly bullying worker and otherwise pressuring them.

The downturn wasn't as bad as expected so now we have a job market where recruiters report as many as 40% of all workers are actively seeking new jobs.

Stephanie Cowan

Bob, once again you have hit the nail on the head. I have been employed for a little over two years (basically since the beginning of the Great Recession) with a company that invests no resources in leadership training or development. It shows. My direct supervisor actually spoke admiringly about how his counterpart uses constant humiliation as a tool to keep people on their toes. There is no feedback process, formal or informal. Feedback occurs when soemone gets really pissed off. I have been promoted twice because I show up every day, do my very best, practice diplomacy, and keep my head down. But I have been watching and waiting for this job market to shift. So, they inspired my full engagement....in hunting for other employment.

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